When you are walking, running or cycling through the Yarkon Park in north Tel Aviv, it is easy to forget that you are in the middle of a large city. It is also easy to forget that not too long ago the Yarkon River - now a habitat for birds, wildlife and a lovely scenic area to lay out a picnic - was filled with toxins and pollutants.
This 180Âº reversal can be attributed to the efforts of KKL-JNF to rehabilitate the river and restore the surrounding ecosystem. In the wake of the tragic bridge collapse during the 15th Maccabiah games, where four Australians lost their lives after falling into the Yarkon, JNF Australia decided to play a central role in cleaning up the river.
"The Yarkon has a long history with the Australian Jewish community, owing to that sad day in July 1997 when the bridge collapsed," said Robert Schneider, CEO JNF Australia. "But we really have succeeded in achieving a living memory for the victims and for those who were injured," he told delegates of the KKL-JNF World Marketing Conference as they gathered in an area of the Yarkon Park called Rosh Zippor - Bird's Head - to see the progress on the project.
"What better gift to give the people in the most densely populated Jewish area of the world - Tel Aviv - than a 'green lung' in the middle of their metropolitan city?" asked David Pergamont, director general of the Yarkon River Authority, who has been at the forefront of implementing this ecosystem rehabilitation plan. He believes that 2009 will be an iconic year for the Yarkon as the bulk of the restoration projects are due for completion, including the waste water treatment plan and the building of a wetland - the first of such a large size in Israel.
"The Yarkon was one of the pioneers in self-restoration," said Dr. Avi Gafni, a hydrologist and water researcher for KKL-JNF. He explained that many streams in Israel have sewage flowing through them and that a major challenge of river restoration is to find the way to prevent that transfer of sewage into the streams. This is particularly important in view of the critical lack of fresh water in Israel, as the country enters into its 5th consecutive year of drought. "The demand for fresh water is increasing at a rate of 6% each year," said Gafni, "but the climate is difficult and we are getting less and less precipitation."
One of the technologies that KKL-JNF has introduced during the last few years is the recycling of sewage water through the construction of a wetland. Using this environmentally friendly approach, sewage is dumped into a marsh where it is treated naturally so that it can be reused as clean water.
Nonetheless, at present, the major strategy supported by government is the desalination of sea water, which may provide a reliable source of clean water, but at a potential ecological cost to the surrounding environs. Two desalination plants are already running in the coastal towns of Ashkelon and Palmachim, together providing 130 million cubic meters of clean water to the population. By 2012, three more plants in Hadera, Ashdod and Sorek are expected to be fully operational as well.
In the meantime, in order to manage Israel's water crisis in the short term, the government has ordered cuts of 100 million cubic meters in the use of water for agriculture and has imposed tariffs on domestic water consumption.
In the town of Givatayim, one of Tel Aviv's smaller, quieter neighbours, the municipality has established an underground water storage system that collects and purifies rainwater and converts it into drinking water for the local residents. This project, created by KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler during his previous tenure as mayor, is the first of its kind and, as Stenzler told the KKL-JNF marketing group, "Givatayim is the only town out of the 14 towns of the area whose drinking water comes from its own wells."